“Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow” at the Garage, Moscow | BLOUIN ARTINFO
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“Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow” at the Garage, Moscow

Grisha Bruskin's "Fundamental Lexicon," 1986, Oil on canvas, 32 parts, 55 × 38 cm each, overall size 220 × 304 cm
(Private collection, Germany)

Running until the end of February 2018 is an exhibition that explores the significance of a 1988 auction in Russian and Soviet art history. “Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow” is part of a series of research exhibitions devoted to various events and phenomena. The exhibition is being presented at the Garage gallery in Moscow.

On July 7, 1988 Sotheby’s held an auction at the Sovincenter in Moscow, which later went on to become one of the most controversial art events of the Soviet era. The auction, initiated by Simon de Pury, saw 100 lots of avant-garde and “unofficial” contemporary works being offered to international collectors who had flown in especially for the event. It was watched over by skeptical local artists and intelligentsia, who were not permitted to bid under the legislation of the time.

“Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow,” will feature raw video footage of the full sale led by Simon de Pury; new interviews with the organizers and 10 of the participating artists. The exhibit is essentially a virtual reality installation that would transport visitants to the original venue to witness the event. Along with that, press reviews of the time, and archival documents presented at the exposition reveal the contradictory perspectives that shroud the auction to this day.

Apart from the video installation, the exposition will have on display a number of original objects from the 1988 sale, such as early 2oth century avant-garde work by Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova; “Fundamental Lexicon” (1986) by Grisha Brushkin, (the highest-selling contemporary work at the auction); and a piece by Ilya Kabakov — “All About Him” (1971).

“Glasnost” the term that features in the exhibit title, is used in Russia to refer to or call upon a public process of justice or governance. Its closest meaning in the English language is “freedom of speech.” When Mikhail Gorbachev became the Communist Party General Secretary in March 1985, he introduced the term as one of three slogans in his campaign to reform the Soviet Union, calling for “Glasnost” in public discourse, “perestroika” (restructuring) in the economy and political system, and “novoe myshlenie” (new thinking) in foreign policy.

Signifying the changing political landscape of the time, the Sotheby’s auction was the last international cultural initiative during the period of perestroika to require special approval by the Soviet government. It also ended up being the most successful example of commercial exchange through culture to ever occur in the Soviet Union. The sale took the Russian and Western art worlds by surprise with its resounding sales, which established the market — albeit fleetingly — for Russian contemporary art. The event caused the collapse of the stark separation between the Soviet official and unofficial cultural systems; brought rivalry and competition into the art scene; and prompted a new wave of emigration by artists eager to benefit from the auction’s domino effect.

“Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow” will be on view from January 23 - February 28, 2018, at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, 9/32 Krymsky Val, 119049, Moscow, Russia.

For details, visit: http://garagemca.org

Click on the slideshow for a sneak peek at the exhibition.